The Brady Act requires the Attorney General to establish a national instant background check system by November 30, 1998.
It also requires through interim provisions that state and local law enforcement personnel do background checks before issuing permits for firearms.
Petitioners are chief law enforcement officers for Ravalli County, MT and Graham County, AZ, and challenge the constitutionality of the Brady Act's interim provisions.
SCOTUS found for P, act unconstitutional.
Do interim provision of the Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act, which command state and local law enforcement officers to conduct background checks on prospective handgun purchasers and to perform certain related tasks, violate the Constitution?
The CLEO-administered background check requirement of the Brady Act violates the Constitution because the Federal Government may not compel the states to enact or administer a federal regulatory program.
The Federal Government may neither issue directives requiring the states to address particular problems, nor command the States' officers to administer or enforce a federal regulatory program.
Brady Act purports to direct state law enforcement officers to participate, albeit temporarily, in the administration of a federally enacted regulatory scheme. CLEOs must enforce this.
Here, the CLEOs object to being forced into federal service.
Early laws establish that, at most, the Constitution was understood to permit imposition of an obligation on state judges to enforce federal prescriptions.
However, they did not impose obligations on state courts to impress the state executives into service.
There are many of them, and none of them do this.
When the early Congress wanted states' assistance holding federal prisoners at federal expense, they issued a recommendation to legislatures, not an order, and when Georgia refused to comply, they merely authorized the marshal in any state to rent a temporary jail cell.
Most of the statutes enacted in the past few decades that require the participation of state and local officials are conditional on the grant of federal funding, not mandates.
Constitutional structure considerations:
The states retained an inviolable sovereignty when they surrendered some of their power to the Federal Government.
This was implicit in the conferral of enumerated powers to the Federal Government. This is also expressed in the 10th Amendment.
The framers rejected the idea that the central government would act upon and through the States, and instead designed a system in which the state and federal government would exercise concurrent authority over the people.
Federal control of state officers would effect the division of power between State and Federal Governments. It would also effect the separation and equilibration of powers between the three branches of the Federal Government itself.
The Brady Act effectively transfers the responsibility of the executive to thousands of CLEOs in the 50 states, who are left to implement the program without meaningful Presidential control.
Prior jurisprudence of this Court
In New York v. United States, we held that the Federal Government cannot compel the states to enact a federal regulatory program.
The Gov't argues that the Brady Act does not require state legislative or executive officials to make policy, but instead issues a directive to the CLEOs.
The Gov't is confusing making law and enforcing it.
Even assuming the Brady Act leaves no policymaking discretion with the States, this actually worsens the problem, because it leaves even less state autonomy.
A balancing analysis is inappropriate. It doesn't matter whether there are good policy/efficiency reasons for having CLEOs enforce the Brady Act.
Commerce clause shouldn't be able to do anything.
Dissent (Stevens, Souter, Ginsburg, Breyer)
When Congress exercises the powers delegated to it by the Constitution, it may impose affirmative obligations on executive and judicial officers of state and local governments as well as ordinary citizens. This is firmly supported by the text of the Constitution, the early history of the Nation, decisions of this Court, and a correct understanding of the basic structure of the federal government.
We must consider implications of this decision in times of national emergency, when it might be necessary to enlist state officers to make an appropriate response.
Text of the Constitution
Article 1 § 8 grants Congress the power to regulate commerce among the States. This obviously supports the regulation of commerce in handguns effected by the Brady Act.
This also falls under the necessary and proper clause, since it is temporary enlistment.
Unlike the 1st Amendment, the 10th Amendment imposes no restrictions on the exercise of delegated powers as it uses clear language to refer only to the powers "not" delegated to Congress.
Early History of the Nation
Under the Articles of Confederation, the Nat'l Gov't had the power to issue commands directly to the states, but not to individuals. This method was ineffective not because it demeaned the sovereign character of the several States, but rather because it was cumbersome and inefficient. When the Framers gave power to the federal gov't to issue commands to individuals, it was meant to enhance gov't powers, not to provide a new immunity for state officers.
During the debates over ratification, it was assumed that state agents would act as tax collectors for the federal government. The majority's response to this is weak.
Finally, Congress elected to rely on state judges and clerks to perform a variety of executive functions. This is clearly evidence of a contemporary understanding that their status as state officials did not immunize them from federal service.
Structure of the Federal Gov't
The Court's "structural" arguments are not sufficient to rebut the historical presumptions.
The fact that the framers intended to preserve the sovereignty of the several States does not speak to the question of whether individual state employees may be required to perform federal obligations.
Use Garcia v. SAMTA to explain that the principle means the framers employed to ensure the role of the States in the federal system lies in the structure of the Federal Gov't itself.
Ex: Senators are elected by states, and thus represent their constituents' interests. They would not ignore the sovereignty concerns of their constituents.
The structure of the federal system will not collapse if this Act is allowed to stand, because these cases do not even involve any mandate on the state legislatures to enact new rules.
It merely involves the imposition of modest duties on individual officers.
The Court accepts the fact that Congress could require private persons to provide arms merchants with relevant information about a prospective purchaser's fitness to own a weapon.
A structural problem that vanishes when the statute affects private individuals as well as public officials is not much of a structural problem.
New York did not decide the question presented here, which regards state officials rather than legislators.